Tire Swings and Innocence.

It took me two days to make the photograph above. I saw it one day and waited for the next to capture it. I checked the weather and hoped that the light and timing would be ideal. As I was composing the frame one of my nephews asked, “What are you taking that for, Uncle Peter?” I said, “For my blog.” He queried, “Why?” “I’m not sure, but I’ll use is somewhere,” I responded.

Today I woke up and checked my Twitter feed. I follow several bloggers who write on leadership, life and faith. I read one article on gay marriage and another on the Rangers’ win over the Washington Capitals. As I scrolled through yet a third feed my mind’s ability to connect unrelated items kicked in and I thought of the tire swing.

When I think of tire swings I think of innocence; lazy, hazy days of pendulum motion staring at the blur of grass and dirt below as one lay prone in the tube. In fact, when I first saw it there was a large, white, fluffy pillow in the tire making it easier I suppose for one to meditatively lay while dangling in the donut. Innocence is a wonderful thing we’re blessed with when young. As we experience life innocence fades, sometimes being violently torn from us. It’s in innocence, not ignorance, that we can allow room for others to be who they are and for us to enjoy ourselves in peace, I believe. But as that simplicity fades, something dark replaces it if we’re not cautious, and most of us aren’t.

The reason I connected the innocence of the swing with the third blogger was this – the majority of his posts are in the negative. “5 reasons why we should NOT…” “3 Things we do WRONG when…” “8 things you should NEVER do…” And this prompted me to deliberate on my own reality. I’m not advocating a blind “happy, happy, joy, joy” mentality. I’d rather be a realist than chained to fanciful ideals. However, there’s something attractive about people who are able to accurately define reality and still approach it in a positive, problem solving way. This is what quality leadership looks like, but I digress.

I used to be far more negative (selfish) than I am now – and my wife agrees with my progress! Over the past few years – with various episodes of trauma intermixed – I’ve learned things about myself. Why I do what I do and say what I say has become clearer to me. It’s been revelatory for my personal growth and it’s constructively impacted my interaction with others. As with many of us, when we learn something about ourselves, we start to see it in other people – and it can be glaringly horrific.

Just recently I was speaking with an acquaintance about some very positive and significant things I’ve been seeing in those I work with. As I listed off a few names of people I see potential in, out from the lips of my friend popped a negative. Perhaps it was truth-filled, but it was totally unproductive and unnecessary to the conversation. And it was rather derogatory. It caused me to wind the discussion down; so much for conversation.

Another time I was talking with a man and he was telling me of a meeting he had with another with whom his relationship was strained. He went on to describe the initial pleasantness of the interaction and then out popped his narrative of what ended the connection. Again, it was negative, unnecessary and completely unproductive in any way towards fostering healing or reconciliation. At a later date I caught up with the other guy and he mentioned how the first man’s comment threw an icy blanket onto what started out as a positive and warm exchange.

Years ago when I was a photojournalist, my boss had to engage one staffer on her less-than-desirable performance. The intentions of the boss were to improve the photographer. I’ve learned a lot about these kinds of engagements over the years too, remember the “trauma” I mentioned earlier? Yeah, well, they’re never fun but essential if we want people to succeed. The unfortunate negativity of the interaction between boss and employee wasn’t the topic but how the shooter threw teammates under the bus! Why she felt the need to not simply shoulder her responsibility but pop off on others is still beyond me. Yet, I see this happen still. Children are especially good at it, and this is part of my point.

Why do we do this? Why do we sort through the plethora of thoughts and words that could be said and choose the negative? Why do we act like children? I could go on for pages with a thorough investigation as to why. There are heaps of books on the topic as well. Instead, I want to share the one thing that’s changed the way I engage others – I have a long way to go, but I’m told that the journey of a thousand miles starts by first firing up your motorcycle!

After decades of living I was awakened to the need to grow up emotionally. You can be physically fit and have the body of Hercules and still be an emotional baby. You can be a CEO of a company and be sucking your thumb emotionally. You can fathom all mysteries and understand all faiths but still be clinging to your emotional baby rattle. We can’t interact well or be spiritually mature unless we’re also emotionally healthy*. After years and years of personal struggle as to why I was so easily agitated, it was presented to me – through happenstance – that I needed to consider my E.Q. (Emotional Quotient) not my I.Q., as much as any other aspect of my life.

I believe this is one reason we are so quick to move to the negative. My Mom used to tell me that there are two ways to have the tallest building in the city. 1) build it yourself or 2) knock the others down. We learn very easily to knock others down, don’t we? I share this with you because being self-aware has made a huge impact on my life and others who are brave enough to address it. As I continue to unpack this lovely gift, I continue to advance. Understanding where you come from, what has shaped you and how you’re wired in peace and conflict will make a massive difference in your approach with others. It will help you to throttle back those negative words and thoughts, maybe even change how you blog!

I think we all need a little time on the tire swing to contemplate where we are and what we do and say. If you’re brave enough to take a step towards emotional health, there are three books I recommend, “Have a Nice Conflict”, by Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson and Kent Mitchell. “The Road Less Traveled”, by M. Scott Peck, M.D.; and “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, by Peter Scazzero. You can also visit EmotionallyHealthy.org for more resources. Of course, you can contact me for some further discussion or direction. It’s good to find a person one rung higher up the ladder than yourself for mentoring and assistance. Go find a tire swing and return to innocence. May you be greatly blessed as you travel this journey towards a healthy you. 

*I openly and rightly credit Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Pete Scazzero with articulating this Truth.. M. Scott Peck, although writing decades earlier, seems to agree with this as well.